Is This the End for Netanyahu?
Although Benjamin Netanyahu has now become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, projections suggest that MK and former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman will achieve his objective and bring about Netanyahu’s political demise. If, as appears almost certain, Lieberman’s strident anti-haredi positions gain him additional seats, he will continue to hold the balance of power. His role is strengthened with polls predicting another deadlock with neither Netanyahu nor Blue and White head Benny Gantz able to cobble together sufficient seats to form a government.
On top of that, should Netanyahu be indicted, it is likely that Likud would be divided as to whether he can retain his position as party leader.
Paradoxically, Netanyahu is currently at the peak of his achievements. He courageously overcame the stormy, confrontational era of former US President Barack Obama with subsequent events totally vindicating him. He has managed to expand the alliance with the United States to an all-time high, while simultaneously developing an unprecedented positive relationship with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (despite his support of Syria). He has advanced relations with India and deftly penetrated barriers and created relationships in South America, Africa, and Asia, including China. He has also broken through what seemed an insurmountable barrier and developed covert and even not so covert associations with the Saudis and moderate Sunni states. Israel today, largely due to Netanyahu’s diplomacy, has better relations with the international community than at any time since its inception.
In addition, he can take much of the credit for Israel’s booming economy and for the country being ranked as one of the world’s most successful high-tech innovators. Under his leadership, the IDF has achieved new peaks and is capable of defeating any threat from Israel’s adversaries.
But after Netanyahu’s 13 years in office — extraordinary longevity for any elected leader — many Israelis seek a change. This attitude is exacerbated by a media that has unceasingly demonized him personally as well as politically in a manner unprecedented in any democratic country. His hedonistic lifestyle, which the court is unlikely to deem a crime, has intensified public opposition.
His constant kowtowing to extremist haredi demands, particularly outraging Israelis with his concessions on draft exemptions, has created a backlash, and according to the polls, diverted many voters to Lieberman’s party since he is perceived as the only one standing up to haredi extortion. Unless the merger with the New Right led by Ayelet Shaked can change the environment, a Netanyahu government including haredim will ensure that religious extremism will intensify, even beyond their efforts to enforce total gender separation and imposing obstacles to conversion.
Even more critical has been the exclusion of all secular elements from their core educational agenda, making most graduates unfit for anything other than the most menial work. Their ever-expanding population will lead to dire consequences when the state is economically unable to finance the increased demand for social services for those unable or unwilling to engage in productive labor.
To make matters worse, formerly moderate religious Zionism has now become largely dominated by “national haredim” who, while fully supportive of national goals, ally themselves with the extremist haredim on questions of religious observance.
Netanyahu has also been accused of eliminating those with the potential to displace him as head of the party. Getting close to the prime minister is likened to a moth attracted to a flame and leads to destruction. A striking example of his petty-mindedness was his decision to sack Shaked and Naftali Bennet from their cabinet positions and his frenzied efforts to destroy them.
Under current circumstances, even if Likud gains more seats than Blue and White, and Netanyahu overcomes his legal problems, if none of the opposition parties or enough individual MKs can be seduced into joining him, we could face an ongoing deadlock. Neither side may be able to obtain a majority. Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party could double its previous electoral strength because of the attractions of its anti-haredi stance.
The only solution is for Likud to propose a national unity government, offering Gantz a rotating premiership with Netanyahu retiring at the end of his term. But this will fail if Blue and White remains true to its pledge not to consider serving under Netanyahu under any circumstances.
If that happens, the president could step in and invite Gantz to form a government. Likud would then have no alternative but to oblige Netanyahu to step down. And once he does, Likud under a new leader would negotiate a unity government with Blue and White — with or without the inclusion of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. This should pose no obstacles because Gantz shares the same basic policies as the current government in relation to security and defense.
Most Israelis would be relieved by such an outcome, which would help unite the nation and bring an end to haredi extortion. Such a merger would also destroy the current distorted perception that Israel is governed by an “extreme” right-wing government but enjoys the overwhelming support of the Israeli people.
There remains one problem with such a solution: Does Gantz possess the qualities to lead the country? Could he, like Netanyahu, successfully walk the diplomatic tightrope between Trump and Putin? Gantz displays neither charisma nor a strong leadership image. A big question mark hangs over his ability to effectively lead the country over the next 12 months, when critical decisions will need to be made.
And if not Gantz, who in either party does have the qualifications to lead? The brutal truth is nobody!
This is why, despite the fact Netanyahu does not endear himself to most Israelis, at the same time polls show that even today many consider him the only competent candidate for prime minister. Indeed, there are many who detest him but would still opt for him to retain the reins of leadership over the coming crucial year.
So, while many are predicting that this is Netanyahu’s last hurrah, they could be wrong. Today the odds are against him but on previous occasions he used his extraordinary political skills and overcame what seemed to be hopeless situations. Don’t write him off yet!
Isi Leibler is an Israeli writer and columnist. His website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He may be contacted at [email protected]